Reds’ bats need to break out of slumber

By Tom Usher -

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo, expected to be one of the team’s top pitchers, will get the start on opening day.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo, expected to be one of the team’s top pitchers, will get the start on opening day.

CINCINNATI – The good news for the Reds in 2020 was they posted a winning season (31-29) for the first time since 2013.

They also reached the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

On the other side, the Reds batted a frigid .212, the worst team batting average since the 1910 White Sox hit .211.

Granted, it was only 60 games, but with the lack of timely hitting, the club spent the year riding the back of the pitching staff.

The Reds ranked second in the league in ERA at 3.84.

For the first time in Reds history, the Reds had a Cy Young Award winner in Trevor Bauer.

However, Bauer left for the Dodgers, as he signed a three-year, $102 million contract.

First base

Joey Votto looked like he was in a fog for the first half of the season and finished with a career-low .226 average with eight doubles and 11 home runs. That was coming off a .261 season with 15 home runs in 2019.

The .304 career hitter did alter his wait-and-see approach in the second half and hit six home runs in the final month.

Votto’s career on-base percentage is .419, but it dropped to .354 last year.

He missed 12 days this spring when he was on the COVID-19 list. If Votto isn’t ready for Opening Day, Kyle Farmer could start at first.

Votto’s $25 million a year contract runs through 2023, with a $20 million dollar team option and $7 million dollar buyout in 2024.


Second base

Jonathan India, the team’s No. 5-ranked prospect, was the Reds’ first-round draft choice from the University of Florida in 2018.

He spent last year at the alternate site working on his hitting. Through Sunday, India was hitting .319 with three home runs in the spring.

In 2019, between Class A Daytona and AA Chattanooga, he hit .259 with 11 home runs and 18 doubles.

If things go south for India, look for Kyle Farmer to take over.

Grade: C+


First, Freddy Galvis signed with the Orioles.

Next, when it was determined that last year’s shortstop for 21 games, Jose Garcia (.194), wasn’t ready for MLB pitching, the job appeared to be Kyle Farmer’s to lose.

But Eugenio Suarez lost 15 pounds in the offseason and suddenly he appeared on the back fields of spring training taking balls at short.

So Suarez was shifted from third to shortstop, the position he came up to the Tigers playing in 2014.

Suarez slumped to a .202 average, but did have 15 home runs and 38 RBI. In 2019, Suarez hit .271 with 49 home runs and 103 RBI.

His weight loss was one of the keys to manager David Bell shaking up his infield.

Grade: B+

Third base

Mike Moustakas moves from second base last year to third, where he’s played the bulk of his career. From 2011 to 2017, he played third base for the Royals. In 2019, in Milwaukee, he played 105 games at third and 47 at second.

Last year he hit only .230 with eight home runs and 27 RBI. He was an All-Star in 2019 with the Brewers when he hit .254 with 35 home runs and 87 RBI.

He’s a three-time All-Star who helped the Royals win the 2015 World Series. Moustakas is a .251 lifetime hitter with 190 career home runs.

Grade: B+


Tucker Barnhart hit only. 204, with five home runs, but won his second Gold Glove with his strong arm and blocking skills. He’s also an excellent handler of pitchers.

The .248 lifetime hitter batted .231 in 2019. The former switch-hitter is now batting only from the left side.

Barnhart will remain one of the top defensive catchers in baseball.

His backup is 6-foot-4, 225-pound prospect Tyler Stephenson, the team’s No. 4-ranked prospect. He hit .294 with two home runs in 17 at-bats last year.

Grade: B


Jesse Winker, who had 37 starts at designated hitter, returns to left field with no DH this year. Winker was the team’s top hitter at .255 and got his power going with 12 home runs. His on-base percentage was .388.

Center fielder Nick Senzel was out almost half the year on the COVID-19 list. He never got into a groove and hit only .186 in 70

at-bats over 23 games. As a rookie in 2019, he hit .256 with 12 home runs and 42 RBI.

Senzel suffered a left groin strain late in camp. He’s listed as probable for Opening Day.

Right fielder Nick Castellanos generates power to all fields. He hit 14 home runs, but never fully got on a roll with a .225 average. He led the team with 11 doubles. He needs to return to his 2019 form with the Cubs and Tigers, when he batted .289 with 27 home runs, 73 RBI and 58 doubles.

Shogo Akiyama suffered a hamstring injury in camp and will start the year on the injured list. He’ll see time in center and left. Akiyama struggled early with high 90s MLB fastballs. He hit .245 with six doubles and seven stolen bases. He did make changes in his approach and hit .317 in the final month.

There’s also Aristides Aquino and former Indian Tyler Naquin.

Grade: B

Starting rotation

The starters ranked third in the league with a 3.50 ERA. That was helped by the departed Trevor Bauer, who led the N.L. with a 1.73 ERA.

Even without Bauer, the Reds have a strong 1-2 top of the rotation with right-handers Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.

Castillo rolls out a 97 mph fastball and mixes in one of the top change-ups in baseball. He was 4-6 with a 3.21. Castillo struck out 89 in 70 innings. Right-handers hit .221 off him.

Gray suffered back spasms in the spring will start the season on the injured list. He was 5-3 with a 3.70. In 56 innings, he struck out 72.

Gray throws two different fastballs, along with a breaking ball and slider. His breaking ball is his top pitch. Batters hit .203 off him.

Right-hander Tyler Mahle had a break-out year (2-2, 3.59) thanks to adding a slider to his arsenal. He struck out 60 in 47 innings. Batters hit only .198 off him.

Veteran left-hander Wade Miley is back after battling shoulder and groin injuries last year. He was limited to four starts and 14 innings and had a 5.65.

With Anthony DeSclafani gone to the Giants, the fifth spot was a battle in camp between Michael Lorenzen, former Rockies pitcher Jeff Hoffman, Tejay Atone and Jose De Leon.

Antone will start the year in the pen, as he suffered a couple of injuries (groin, hip flexor) in camp.

Lorenzen is battling a slight strain in his right shoulder. He may start the year on the injured list, but when healthy, will be the fifth starter. Lorenzen, who throws high 90s, had a 4.28 in 18 appearances, two starts.

Hoffman, who came from Colorado for Robert Stephenson, had a 9.28 in 16 relief appearances with the Rockies. His career ERA in Colorado over five years (68 games, 38 starts) was 6.40. He’ll start with Gray and Lorenzen injured.

DeLeon pitched well in the Puerto Rican Winter League (3.71, 31 strikeouts, 17 innings).

Grade: B+


The bullpen and its closer Raisel Iglesias had a roller-coaster ride last year.

The bullpen’s ERA was 4.53, which ranked eighth in the league.

Iglesias is gone, as he was traded to the Angels.

The heir apparent to Iglesias is left-hander Amir Garrett (2.45, one save), who had 26 strikeouts in 18 innings.

Garrett battled left forearm soreness early in camp, but has returned to good health. He uses his slider as his out pitch and opponents have hit a mere .125 against his slider the last two years. Batters hit .161 off him last year.

There’s also Lucas Sims, who perfected his breaking ball and had a 2.45. He struck out 34 in 25 innings. Batters hit .146 off him.

Former Nationals closer lefty Sean Doolittle is trying to regain his form and recapture his mid-to-high 90s fastball with the Reds. He had a 5.87 last year, but injuries limited him to 7.2

innings. In 2019 with the Nationals, he had 29 saves and a 4.05. Doolittle was rocked early in the spring, but slowly improved.

Tejay Antone (2.80) had a 1.89 in nine relief appearances and a 3.86 in four starts. He struck out 45 in 35 innings. He throws 96 mph with a power sinker and could see starts in the No. 5 slot in the rotation.

The Reds could start the year with a committee approach to the closer’s role, with Garrett and Sims leading the way.

There’s also a mix of Sal Romano, Heath Hembree, Cam Bedrosian and Cionel Perez, who had a 2.84 in seven relief appearances with the Astros.


OVERALL: Even without Trevor Bauer, the pitching staff is a team strength. But to reach the playoffs again, the heart of the order needs to deliver timely hits on a consistent basis.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo, expected to be one of the team’s top pitchers, will get the start on opening day. Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo, expected to be one of the team’s top pitchers, will get the start on opening day.

By Tom Usher

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